Trash heap at the top of the world

It’s that time of year again. Each May,  there is a brief window of opportunity, granted by the seasons and local conditions, when you can attempt a visit to the top of the world.

Climbing Mt. Everest has become one of the world’s most expensive, deadly, and destructive hobbies. Every year thousands of hopeful climbers and tourists descend on the area, many of whom really shouldn’t be there at all.

And, of course, a lot of them die. There have been about 300 or so deaths on Everest over the years since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first summited in 1953, and the Sherpas who guide the adventurers have died more often than anyone else. The last year without known fatalities on the mountain was 1977.

This year, the death toll has already reached ten, including an 85-year-old guy who was trying to reclaim his record as being the oldest to do it.

An industry has grown up around getting the clients to the summit one way or another, even if it means cutting some corners. The paying customers expect it, having put up tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be there.

In 2014,  Wang Jing, the 41 year old owner of a large Chinese outdoor clothing firm, defied a Sherpa strike by taking a helicopter to 21,000 feet, drawing some scorn from the mountaineering community.  She was trying to get to the “seven summits”, the highest point on each continent. The Sherpas were striking to redress many grievances they had about their treatment. This article covers the subject well.

The 1996 case of socialite Sandy Hill, who brought her cappuccino machine along,  got a lot of attention when Jon Krakauer wrote about her in Into Thin Air, his excellent account of the disaster on Everest she was part of.  He describes her as essentially being carried to the summit,

“the Sherpa, huffing and puffing loudly, was hauling the assertive New Yorker up the steep slope like a horse pulling a plow”

Hill became the focus of disdain and ridicule, a caricature of the rich and demanding westerner, and a self-promoter who put others in danger. She has her own version of the story, of course.

Everest is maxed out. It’s getting so there’s a traffic jam near the top, as people wait their turn to try for the summit.

everest line

A good deal of attention is at last being put on the environmental impact of all this activity.

This article talks about how people are leaving shit all over the place. Literally. It says

At base camp, visitors annually produce about 12,000 pounds of human waste each year, which often ends up in the waterways that nearby villages rely upon. “It’s getting notorious — people getting sick from water contaminated by dumping human waste,” Alton Byers, director of science and exploration at the US-based Mountain Institute, expained. “The place is getting covered with landfills, creating an environmental hazard for humans and animals.”

Here’s a good one from Outside Magazine with a lot more detail on the defecation problem. Gross, I know, but actually very interesting. Human laziness is the biggest part of the problem. It’s hard work removing stuff at those altitudes. Dead bodies are a particular challenge, and many have been there for decades.


Nepal is trying to address the trash situation with a rule that everyone has to pack out 18 pounds of trash. Literally tons of spent oxygen tanks have been hauled out, but trash generation is far outpacing trash removal.

Pictures from base camp:




Is there any place on this planet that we haven’t yet ruined? Please keep it a secret if you know of one – maybe it can remain free from our intrusions for a little while longer.


One thought on “Trash heap at the top of the world”

  1. Excellent piece — a jolt of reality to the romantic stories we usually hear about Everest–a sad state of affairs for the brave Sherpas and surrounding villages. Instead of focusing on their own resumes all the time, the wealthy climbers who have taken advantage of Everest should organize some pick up the trash and return the bodies expeditions.


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